I spent yesterday traveling, getting up at 6 to drag three heavy bags all the way across town and get on a bus to Manhattan (5hrs), where I dragged those three bags eight blocks to the train station and then spent another hour there, and then two more hours on the train. Luckily, I was prepared. My iPod was filled with books and podcasts and music, and I had my embroidery, and my laptop, and I was set.
Unfortunately, riding the bus in the mornings makes me ill, and the book I was listening to didn't help.
I won't blame the book, because I was already feeling poorly before turning it on. Let me just say there were werewolves and there was a lot of *intense feelings* of girl for wolf without any real interaction between them at all.
The problem with audiobooks is that you can't skip ahead to get to the plot, so I was stuck listening to this girl as she whined about her family, and whined about her friends, and whined about how no one understood her, except for her wolf, who, of course, never speaks to her. And it was all very well written, and the girl was very strongly characterized, and the town and side-characters were well-depicted. And I wanted to puke. (Again, moving bus, early morning, holiday party the day before. Probably not the book's fault.) So finally, I turned it off.
Once I was off the bus and could actually think again, I was wondering why I really didn't like the book. When I was eleven I had adored paranormals. I read all the Night World books, I even wrote fanfic for them. But then I considered further. I had adored LJ Smith. I thought her books were great. (And when I reread one during college, I realized, yeah, the writing is pretty workmanlike, but the plot is fast and funny, and the romance is charming. What's not to like?) But I had tried and tried to read other teen paranormal romances and had never been able to get past the first few pages.
Why not? What was so different about LJ Smith? And then I remembered:
In the Night World Series, soulmates are built into the world. They're a plot point. And they're hilarious. I will never forget the scene where Ash sees Mary Lynette for the first time, and he reacts, like a cat that's had a bucket of water dropped over him.
He doesn't want this. This is the worst thing ever. And even Mary Lynette - she wants boys that are thin, brown, and interesting, not men like big blond cats. (Clearly, I have read that book too many times. I believe those are direct quotes.) The insta-love isn't even love. It's just an intense, inextricable bond. It's an obstacle. It complicates the situation. It allows the attraction and real love room to grow.
A romance that starts with an obsessive love bond between two characters is a lot like an epic fantasy that begins with the world already having been saved. There's nowhere to go, no stakes, no excitement. Now I'm sure that there are plenty of people who like to bask (*cough*wallow*cough*) in the purity of magical love. But not me. And I've been spoiled, by LJ Smith, who writes a love story that manages to be a natural outgrowth of learning to like and to trust. (And has humor. Honestly, humor can make things so much better.)
When I decided to read grown-up romance novels, I couldn't make it past the first few pages of even the most highly recommended ones, until I found Shannon Donnelly. All of the characters, even the antagonists, were likable and interesting. And the romances evolved out of scenes where the characters connected and grew to understand each other. And they were also hilarious. (Hilarious Regency Romance, that's the way to go.)
In the end, I think this all comes down to 'show, don't tell.' I want to watch people fall in love. I want to see that process where you look at someone once and can't find anything worthwhile there, and then each time you see them thereafter there's something new that alters the way you perceive them. Don't tell me they're in love. Don't beat me over the head with their pure and inexplicable bond. Show me that they connect. That moment when one suddenly understands the other, and sees them, with all their flaws, as beautiful and real, now that's what I call swoonworthy.